And just like that, we’re in wine country. One moment we’re hurtling though dusty arid plains, with admittedly the occasional burst of colour thanks to fields of sunflowers, and the next, we’re surrounded by the vines of the La Rioja region.
The soil has changed, no longer russet now a paler limestone tone, reminiscent of France’s vine growing areas. Vines are planted in wide rows and it’s clear from their uniform shape that they are machine trimmed to absolute precision.
We’ve arrived on a Saturday which unlike our cellar doors back home, isn’t a particularly busy day for tastings. Most of the local vineyards close at 2 pm and aren’t open on Sundays but there are still a few busily serving.
The modus operandi is a little different here: you don’t line up at a bar for tasting, you take a seat instead, in a pleasant courtyard or showroom and the tasting comes to you, along with a personal commentary on each wine. The tasting consistents of the full complement of wine of the vittner has on offer.
Most interesting is a key difference in wine making, in that Spanish wines are not designed to be aged in the bottle beyond production. Differences in taste and flavour are manipulated through the nature of the grape used and length of time in oak whether French or American: the latter offers a faster maturation period given that the wood is more porous than French oak.
Age in the bottle prior to the vintage being released also plays a part, but many wines spend only around a year in the bottle prior to being released, unless they are crianza, which are aged for at least two years in the bottle prior to release. The results are fresh and vibrant wines, eminently drinkable.
We also learn the correct meaning of the word Bodegas: it means proprietor. The name of the vitner hangs proudly over each cellar door. Our Bodegas is Edos de Gomez Cruzado, whose family has been producing wine on this site from 1886.
Now, we’ve drunk our fair share of Spanish wine and virtually all of it has very good, but the wines we taste today are on another level. Flavours are deeper, but still fresh and bright, lightly oaked, fruit very much the star. I’m a big fan of this style of wine, disliking the musty flavours of overly aged wine or the sharp tannins of some which, in my opinion, render them undrinkable.
It’s a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, sipping wine and learning about a new wine culture from our knowledgeable host. There’s a limit though to how much one can drink and still drive, so eventually we have to carry our stash back to the car and be on our way.
We drive a little further towards the mountains before stopping for the evening by a river, near a mediaeval bridge. Now disused, it’s surrounded by fig and walnut trees and wild blackberry bushes. The local birds have a great pantry here.
Time to see if those reds are holding their flavour. I’m pleased to report, they are, along with an excellent Gouda (oops, wrong country) and an oregano spiced chorizo. Do love nibbles at end of day here.
Start of day goes to this enormous bully, overlooking our adventures in the road.